Saturday, 13 October 2012

Love Across the Ocean

Many have asked me whether love across the ocean is possible and my answer is yes. Like every other relationship, it takes work but it is doable. Following a concern by one of our members, I have written this to aid those who are in or considering signing up for love across borders.

While growing up, I used to tell my sibling, “Ma wa so fun mi pe, ‘oko mi wa ni ilu oyinbo’.” “Don’t come and tell me, ‘my husband is abroad’.”. But not only did one of them end up telling me that, I ended up saying that as well. Before mine happened, I helped my sister walk prayerfully through hers. The tips I shared with her, made it easier for me to navigate my long distance relationship.

I was introduced to the man that turned out to be my husband in November or December 2011. He signed up for friendship in January. By the time we saw for the first time in April, he knew he wanted to see me again. So we saw again in May by which time he proposed and we entered into the courtship phase. By November we walked down the aisle. I visited him thereafter.

I knew that mere visits will not solidify the union but someone had to be willing to pay the price. It ended up being me.  Shortly after the visit, I relocated to join him.

So what should you consider if you are in a long distance relationship?

  1. You must establish that you want to work at it. But at what? Usually you meet the person involved by chance; you may have the love bulb on in your mind and the other person has the like torch on. So you must find out more about each other establish that you both are willing to work on the friendship. Every relationship takes hard work, communication, patience, sacrifice, thoughtfulness, understanding, tolerance, commitment, focus and dedication regardless of proximity.

  1. Define the parameters of the relationship. Is this friendship (based on convenience), dating (based on declaration), going-out (based on interest), courtship (based on commitment), engagement (based on giving and accepting of ring) etc.? Also is this closed or open relationship. It is open when each of you is okay with seeing other people. It is closed when it is exclusive to you and the person. Once you define the relationship, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches. I recollect that my friend kept talking to me and though we were introduced for the possibility of marriage he never even asked me into a relationship so one day I asked, “I’m considering not picking your calls anymore because you are beginning to demand that I be there but I want to give you the benefit of doubt, so what exactly do you want from me?” Yes, I was that direct and to make it stick I said it in Yoruba. Guess what? The best way to define is to ask DIRECTLY. Either way, yes or no, the response will set you free; to leave, linger or love.
  1. Once you’ve established that you want to work at it and you both understand and accept the parameters, you need to maintain contact via phone calls, emails, e-cards, flowers, cards, online chat etc. Communication is essential and helps you to remain connected and know more about one another especially when it is done at different times. Early morning calls let you see how grumpy this person can get especially if the call interrupts sleep. Late night calls lets you see if the person goes to bed early or would be willing to speak with you even when tired. The calls do not have to be long but should carry a note of “I care”. Write letters! There’s something about receiving letters in the mail from a loved one, it says more that electronic mails can. And you can schedule this to be sent on same days so you read genuinely what the person has to say to you, not just a response to your own mail.

  1. Once you’ve worked through 1-3, you need to start doing things together. In addition to phone calls and emails, plan a regular online meeting using Any Meeting, Skype, Face Time etc. This will afford you the opportunity to see each other. Decide on a programme or movie to watch simultaneously or at different times and discuss same. You can discuss a magazine or current affairs issues etc. Plan visits e.g. either of you can visit monthly or every 3 months (depending on distance) or you can meet at a mid-way location. You may consider setting up reminders and working on the tickets and where to go or what to do on such visits. Among other things, you may study the Bible and pray together during online meetings or visits. Silly as it sounds, you can even cook together! Share recipe, buy ingredients, cook together and of course share pictures. Remember to leave your partner with something special; something that reminds him/her of you – hanky, face towel,  chain, locket, bracelet, scarf, picture etc. Other things you can do together include singing or karaoke, photo-book creation, taking compatibility tests, downloading same ring tone, do pillow talk, grow something together (e.g. plant bean seed in a pot and remind each other to water it…), exercise using vcd or cd, create and upload materials to a jointly owned blog.

  1. Share your individuality. Though long distance helps you to maintain who you are, it is important to share some of those things. So you called and she’s just getting out of the bathroom, you may ask, “So what kind of mirror/soap/sponge do you use?” “Would you share your towel with me or you prefer we use different towels?” You’d be surprised what you’d learn from such conversation. My husband kept buying the toothpaste he liked; I kept using it with him until I blurted out. That was when I found out that his toothpaste was medically recommended. I explained to him that I preferred another brand and he said, “What’s stopping you from getting it!” I switched and we killed every attempt of mere toothpaste coming between us.

  1. Trust is a big one when you are miles apart but it is easier to build trust when 1 and 2 is established. If neither of you is sure of 1 and 2, you may take the other person as a friend and not work on building trust or questioning things that make you doubt the other person. For instance you call at 10PM and she says, sorry I can’t talk to you now. The first thing that comes to your mind is, “I bet someone is there with her/him”. But he may just have had an argument with a sibling and not want to talk; she may be shopping (oh yes, outside Nigeria folks may decide to shop for provisions/groceries at midnight). You would have to build trust and talk about loyalty and faithfulness. One of the ways to do this may be to establish that you can call or visit each other anytime. If you are thousands of miles apart PLEASE ensure you have enough resources (money for hotel, ticket etc.), as you may be disappointed. I once visited my ex; what an awry surprise it turned out to be when I arrived to see that my pictures had been removed from his room and our album hidden away from sight!  Thank God I had money for my return trip; I was too upset to take from him even if he offered. But if you have a conference in the same state or city, you may visit unannounced, that helps you see your partner as he/she is. Be sure not to inject unnecessary jealousy into the root of your relationship. Be careful not to turn up your query mode each time he or she talks about visiting a friend or having a drink with a colleague. It is important to note that your friend or partner would have a social life outside or you and so should you just establish borders to ensure you can remain true to one another. When you choose to ask questions, be careful not to interrogate or nag. I recollect my husband-to-be telling me he would be staying with a lady while attending a church conference in another state. I didn’t find out who the lady is until months after our wedding. But looking back, being unnecessarily jealous when he could have chosen not to tell me about it makes no sense. The mature way I handled it then, led him to open up later that she was actually introduced to him but since she wasn’t interested in dating, they became friends. The lady today has become a mutual friend. Lack of trust will pull down not only the walls but destroy the very foundation of your relationship.
  1. Encourage and motivate one another.  So he has failed ICAN three times and does not want to attempt it again. You can encourage him by offering to pay half of the cost, send him resources, set your alarm so that if his alarm does not wake him at the time he plans to read, yours can with a message that says, “I believe you can make it”. So she’s overweight; without trying to control or make her feel you don’t love her in that size, you can challenge her to let go of some food and exercise e.g. “Let’s do a veggie or fruit weekend”. When done in love, this can help grow your relationship. When the person calls to say, do you know I missed my appointment, tat’s not the time to say, “But why did you go late!” It’s the time to pull him into an embrace, give her a hug; since you can’t do that physically, let your soothing words say it. You can talk about how not to miss the next appointment later.

  1. A lot of men even Christian men believe that women are gold diggers. Even if she is, remember you invited her to dig in your land! A lot of women do not necessary want to dig for gold but they need assurance that your land is fertile, fruitful and productive. So it is essential to give assurance. This goes both ways. So he knows you hate to cook and all the time you tell him about your visit to Tantalizers. He may never ask but if he has never heard you talk about cooking or seen you cook then he’s wondering, “I’ll never eat in with this one!” So you need to assure him that your lifestyle is because you really prefer not to eat alone and once you are together, he can be assured of hot sizzling meals. So you are a kindergarten teacher and all the time you giggle about how amazing the children are; you need to assure her that that is not your final bus stop. Assure her that there is a better future and you’d work to find it with her.

  1. Focus n self-development. Since you have a lot of time on your hands, work on developing yourself because your partner may become clingy when you finally get together especially if he/she has to give up comfort zone to join you. So this si the time to sign up for certificate programmes, weekend courses, career development seminars, retreats etc. Also this will help to limit the loneliness, as you’d be around people that you need not have a relationship with to glean from. If our partner is always talking about setting up the table for dinner, it may just be time to work on table etiquette. If she’s always attending business functions, learn about what to where and business etiquettes. If he is literary inclined there’s no harm in picking up books by his favourite authors.

  1. Set boundaries and goals. Though absence is said to make the heart grow fonder it can also open the heart to other opportunities so set boundaries and goals. Your boundaries can range from no provocative clothing, no sex (with each other and of course that means with others), no calls from friends after 9PM, (most people who would like to drag you into a love relationship would try to do late pillow talk or phone sex!) to no visitors of the opposite gender in your home alone; so if Anthony (a co-worker) were to visit Tola (your girlfriend) at home and you have a no opposite gender rule, Tola would ensure that a female friend is around during the visit. Some of you will say but I trust myself; my response to you is to ask many men or women who ended up putting someone in the family way, their answer is usually “I don’t know how it happened!” Another rule may be step out of the car to chat when an opposite gender friend gives you a ride. Another rule? In one year we should start planning our wedding; this gives both of you something to work towards, it assured either of you this is not a forever friendship. Boundaries can save life and goals can keep dreams alive especially in God-centred relationships. Avoid making your partner unnecessarily jealous

Note that all the challenges of a relationship is heightened and aggravated by long distance and this makes it more challenging. For instance, when communicating face to face, you are able to clarify statements, read non-verbal cues and nuances to know if your explanation is accepted but in distant communication, what you say plays host to how it is interpreted so how you say what you say matters.  

The challenge of long distance relationship stems from being in love with someone you cannot explore the senses with – see, feel, touch, smell, hear but technology and development can help to bridge some of the gaps .e. You can see and hear the person via phone and webcam; this gives you an opportunity to feel the person’s heartbeat and share your thoughts. You can send gifts physically or virtually – actual gifts, gift cards, phone credit, flowers even cake in and out of season.

Most people believe that long distance relationships don’t work or won’t work but if you married someone who had to relocate suddenly, I bet divorce will not be the first option. You’d do everything to make it work without becoming a nervous wreck, especially if you cannot immediate pack up and join him/her. Surviving long distance relationship is not up to family, friends, counsellors or even pastors, it’s up to the two love birds and they can determine and work at making it work. But remember real love is not for sissies; it takes courage and will.

Feel free to share your view, ask questions, post scenarios etc. Together we can build happy marriages.